Untimely Movie Review – Warner Bros. 50 Film Collection: 2004-2010

At long last, after eight years, I’ve reached the home stretch of the Warner Bros. 50 Film Collection.  The list below covers all but the very last film in the collection, which I decided to save for a final post.  This group continues the “wildly uneven” phase of the collection, with some very strong movies mixed in with some selections that probably made sense when they originally sold this set, but seem a little curious in hindsight.  Here we go.

Million-Dollar Baby (2004): I like Clint Eastwood a lot.  I like Morgan Freeman a lot.  They’re both great, as is Hillary Swank.  But what begins as a much-better-than-usual underdog sports movie turns into bummer Oscar-bait.  Granted, it worked like a charm, as Million Dollar Baby took home four major Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director for Eastwood, Best Actress for Swank, and Best Supporting Actor for Freeman.  All three of them were deserving.  But there’s a difference between tackling difficult subjects and emotional masochism, and I think this movie crosses that line.  Like, to the point where it comes off as a Simple Jack-type parody.  To cite one example: Maggie’s cartoon-character mother, wearing attire from a trip to Disney earlier that day, trying to get Maggie to sign over her fortune (by placing the pen in her mouth, since Maggie is paralyzed), but nonetheless stopping to remind Maggie “you lost!”  This is bad.  Bad.  Flat-out.  Over the top.  To say nothing of the fact that she wouldn’t have “lost” the match in real life.  And that’s before we get to the suicide attempt and, ultimately, the case for euthanasia.  That doesn’t mean the movie doesn’t have great performances (it does), but it’s absurd and eyroll-inducing.

The Departed (2006): There is so much to like about this movie.  It’s easy to write it off as just another Scorsese crime picture, but the distinctive hook of two entangled sides with opposing spies in their ranks makes for a riveting, tight film.  With a lot of movies like this one, even good versions, there’s a sense of inevitability about what will ultimately happen.  Heat (which is quite good) is a little like that.  This one keeps dropping pieces of the proverbial puzzle into place, taking some unexpected turns right through the final scene.  I’m not even bothered by Nicholson’s on-again / off-again accent.  Great movie, and a well-deserving Best Picture winner. Continue reading

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Untimely Movie Review: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

Curiously, the Warner Bros. 50 Film Collection includes all three Lord of the Rings films.  Despite the fact that there are several other films in the collection that come from multi-movie franchises, LOTR is the only such franchise that gets more than one entry.

Prior to re-watching them for this review, I had only seen these movies once, and not in a theater.  I wanted to see them due to their cultural significance, so I asked for and received the Extended Editions for Christmas 2004 or 2005.  I watched them once over the course of a four-day weekend, thought they were ok, but never felt the need to revisit them.

Now, nearly 20 years later, let’s see if the non-extended versions are perhaps more compelling. Continue reading

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Let’s All Make Fun of Tom’s Brackets (2022 Edition)

A funny thing happened during last year’s NCAA Tournament.

Breaking from my long-established record of futility, as prominently displayed in 2011, 2013, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019, I somehow bounced back from the one-year COVID tournament layoff to . . . win my pools?  That can’t be right, can it?!?

Indeed, my 2021 bracket correctly predicted a national final of Baylor vs. Gonzaga, with the Bears winning.

And, for the first time since I was in high school(!!!), I won a pool.  A couple of them, in fact.  That ended a 25-year drought.

This time around, I’m fully expecting a return to (terrible) form.  However, I will say that my approach turned out to be the same: I picked very conservatively this year, with mostly top-three seeds advancing past the first two rounds.

While this very likely means I’ll be playing catch-up because I won’t nail many of those tasty first-round upsets, it also means that, as the powers advance, I’ll gradually pull back into contention—and then ahead, if all goes well.  Again, that’s unlikely, but I noticed after filling out this year’s bracket that the formula last year was in that same vein.

The only thing that’s a bummer is that my beloved Richmond Spiders got a terrible draw.

I couldn’t in good conscience pick them over Iowa, a red-hot team that won the Big 10 Tournament.  I was really hoping Richmond would get some fifth-place team from a power conference that struggled at the end of the year—the ideal prey for the tough-to-handle Spiders.

Given their unprecedented (due to COVID rules) experience and challenging style of play for most teams, I really thought Richmond might be primed for an upset or two.  But Iowa is both on a roll and matches up well against Richmond, with a typical dominating inside game and a dynamic scorer besides.

I really, really hope I’m wrong, though!  I would gladly take a bath on my pool if it meant a deep Richmond run.  No contest.  To hell with my bracket!

Speaking of, here it is.  The biggest dilemma, honestly, was Tennessee.  I just don’t trust Rick Barnes to take them to the Final Four.  If this bracket winds up otherwise decent, I think that will be the decision that is my ultimate undoing.  Of course, I could just tank like I normally do, in which case—I’ll look forward to my next win (in 2046):


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Untimely Movie Review: Harry Potter

Harry Potter sceneAs I move forward through the Warner Bros. 50 Film Collection, the set affords me an opportunity to take a much-delayed detour into a vast cinematic universe.

After plowing through the 90s, I got to The Matrix, which inspired me to watch the whole series (for the first time!) so that I could see the fourth in a theater.  As it so happens, the film immediately following The Matrix in the collection is Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Sorcerer’s Stone.

I knew it was coming, so, last year, when I saw a flash sale on the 4K UHD Harry Potter collection—none of which I had seen—for $50 on Amazon, I jumped at it.  And, over the course of just a few days, I experienced the eight-film series.

Rather than reviewing only the single film that occupies a slot in the collection, I’m providing quick takes on each movie from the perspective of a first-time viewer.  Here goes.

Sorcerer’s Stone: First, it’s idiotic they changed the title for American audiences, but that’s a tangent.  A few random thoughts about this one.  I think it probably helps a lot to be about ten years old when you see it.  Quidditch rules make no sense: if there’s one ball that’s worth 150 points and ends the game, what’s the point of the rest of it?  There sure were a lot of owls in this movie.  Harry’s foster family, the DURRRRRRRsleys, are beyond cartoonish, setting a trend of annoying minor characters in this franchise.  Overall, I guess it was fine, but, my goodness, there couldn’t be more parallels to Star Wars if they tried, up to and including the John Williams score.  At least Luke’s uncle wasn’t a nightmare—and had the decency to die with dignity.  The only thing this was missing was a Jar-Jar Binks.  I didn’t hate it. Continue reading

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(Mostly) Untimely Movie Review: The Matrix Series

Continuing my strong stretch run through the Warner Bros. 50 Film Collection, I now get to tackle The Matrix.  However, with a fourth Matrix film recently in theaters, and, strangely enough, not having seen any of them, I decided to watch all four movies in about three days a few weeks ago.

I “get it” now.  I understand why The Matrix was such a phenomenon in 1999.  What is less clear to me is why the sequels are considered so weak by comparison, and, in particular, why the third film is rated so much “worse” than the other two in the trilogy.

First, the original.  The Wachowskis had three major assets working for them.  One, a simple-but-compelling concept, around which they could add layers of (occasionally excessive) complexity.  The premise is so terrific as to seem obvious in hindsight, as technology has advanced so much that watching the original film today makes it land a little closer to “science” than “fiction.”

I assure you that, in 1999, the notion of a fully virtual, ultra-realistic world was still visionary.

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Untimely Movie Review – Warner Bros. 50 Film Collection: 1989-1994

In accordance with the plan I laid out a few weeks back, I now resume my survey of the Warner Bros. 50 Film Collection.  I’ve made good on my word to power through the rest of it, and, as of this writing, I only have two left to watch.  But, I still have to write about each of the films.  Thus, here is a rundown of the movies from the collection that cover 1989 through 1994:

Driving Miss Daisy (1989): Showing this film to the median 25-year-old in 2022 would be an interesting exercise.  This movie depicts what most of us in the 80s and 90s believed to be a positive, hopeful representation of race relations, but today would likely be mocked or sharply criticized as naïve or condescending or worse.  I’m not convinced that this shift is “progress.”  Still, contemporary critics and the Twitterati would almost certainly pillory Morgan Freeman’s Hoke as demeaning or servile—even though that’s sort-of the point!  In 1989, though, critics loved it, and the Academy honored it with a boatload of nominations, including Jessica Tandy becoming the oldest Best Actress winner, and Dan Aykroyd(!!!) getting a nomination for Best Supporting Actor.  To date, it’s the last PG-rated movie to win Best Picture.  For me personally, it’s fine, if a bit paint-by-numbers.  It’s certainly better than some of the other films you’ll read about in a moment, although it’s probably one of the weaker Best Picture winners.  The only thing that I actively disliked about Driving Miss Daisy was that I found it implausible that a backwoods highway patrolman would instantly identify the rather uncommon surname “Werthan” as Jewish.

Goodfellas (1990):  Here’s where I drift in to heretical territory.  Goodfellas is undoubtedly a strong movie.  Let me say that at the outset.  Excellent performances abound, including the best of Ray Liotta’s career.  Here comes the “but.”  But, I think Casino is actually a better version of this type of film.  Goodfellas has some of the hallmark “Scorcese”-isms, including requiring a voiceover to drive the plot, and having some scenes that clearly include partial improvisation, but Casino handles both of these elements better.  Goodfellas gets credit for coming first, but Casino took much the same formula and smoothed out some of the rougher edges.  On the other hand, the rough edges are part of what so many people like about Goodfellas.  For me, it’s a good movie that’s plagued a bit by the eternal “book-based-on-a-movie” challenge, where time leaps and glossing-over are necessary to fit the story within a three-hour window.  But I don’t want it to sound like I don’t think Goodfellas is good.  I absolutely do.  I just wouldn’t put it in my top three of Scorcese’s movies—which is as much a testament to his work as it is to my opinion of Goodfellas. Continue reading

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Unsolicited Warner Bros. 50 Film Collection Review Project Update

Way back in 2014, I set out to review every film in the Warner Bros. 50 Film Collection.  I did great at first!  However, as the years (and responsibilities) piled up, this vow soon became an impediment to completing this formerly joyous task.

Instead of plowing through the collection the way I would binge-watch, say, Community, I found myself delaying the process because I knew that each entry would require a lengthy review on this humble blog.  In fact, I’ve actually recently watched three of these films that I haven’t even reviewed yet! 

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Timely Movie Review: The Last Duel

*SPOILERS AHEAD*

The Last Duel, Ridley Scott’s latest effort, has much to like.  The cinematography is very strong.  The focus on the legal norms of the day, including the loophole of sorts exploited to arrive at the duel itself, is highly interesting.  The action scenes are excellent.  In particular, the titular duel is so well-choreographed that I actually wasn’t entirely sure who was going to win at one point.

The problem was that, by that time, I barely cared.

The Last Duel has a structure that will be familiar to anyone who grew up with 1980s television.  

The story comes in three “chapters,” each of which represent the respective point of view of the three main characters, played by Matt Damon, Adam Driver, and Jodie Comer—in that order.  Now, as anyone who experienced that 80s TV trope can tell you, the whole point of this form of storytelling is to show that each person has a slightly different perspective on the same events (and also to give a break to writers who had to crank out 22 episodes’ worth of “WHATCHOOTALKINBOUTWILLIS?” jokes). 

This technique can be used to highlight the more humorous personality traits of the characters, each of whom normally makes himself the singular hero of the same story.  In terms of drama—and this is key—it can be used to show nuanced versions of the same event to get the audience to try to decide what objective reality might be.

Often, that reality can mean some mid-point among all of the versions.  Or, the creator might leave it to the audience to debate and decide which is the actual “correct” story is, perhaps picking up on consistent threads in the various versions to separate fact from embellishment.  This can be a captivating storytelling device when used correctly. 

Note: Correctly. 

That isn’t what happens in The Last Duel.

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Untimely Movie Review: Full Metal Jacket

If you saw Full Metal Jacket years ago, or you’ve only watched a few key scenes on YouTube, you probably love the movie.  Or, you think you do, anyway.  

If it’s been a while since you’ve seen it, it may come as some surprise that Full Metal Jacket is part of a sub-set of films that include an iconic first portion, followed by a middling or flawed remainder that nobody really remembers because oh my God that first part!  Other examples might include Stripes or Superbad, not that those films are anything like FMJ.  Nor are they part of the Warner Bros. 50 Film Collection.

The first 45 minutes of Full Metal Jacket is virtually an extended montage scene, save for two voiceovers by Private Joker (Matthew Modine), which provide some cover exposition to allow the audience to understand how much time has passed.  Those 45 minutes are absolutely riveting, as Drill Sergeant Hartman (R. Lee Ermey) whips young Marines into shape in preparation for the horrors of Vietnam. 

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NCAA Football without the “NCAA”

Seems like a good time to re-up this piece in 2013, which, in turn, was based on a law-school paper I wrote predicting the NCAA’s ultimate defeat in preventing players from profiting from their name, image, and likeness.

The Axis of Ego

NCAAFootball14NCAA Football, long a staple of the EA Sports gaming line-up, will cease to exist after the current version—a least under that name.

The NCAA announced yesterday that it would not renew its long-standing licensing deal with Electronic Arts.  An agreement between the two parties has existed in some form for 20 years.  The reason for the change is fairly simple: The Ed O’Bannon lawsuit creates huge potential liability for the NCAA.  Should a court rule that the organization must compensate athletes for the use of their likenesses, the NCAA could be on the hook for millions upon millions of dollars, depending on where the “line” is drawn for damages in terms of timing and the size of the class eligible for recovery.

Naturally, the NCAA says that “We are confident in our legal position regarding the use of our trademarks in video games.  But, given the current business…

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